Silent Night by Theatre in the Quarter touring until 7th December
Photograph Andy Davies
It was a pleasure to be back at St Marys Centre in Chester to witness another outstanding performance by Theatre in the Quarter, who are now currently in their tenth year of producing some exceptional representations following on from the outstanding depictions of A Christmas Carol and The Snow Queen in 2012 and 2013 respectfully.
As part of the tribute to those who died and suffered so terribly during the Great War, Theatre in the Quarter is currently touring with Silent Night to commemorate the commencement of World War 1 on this the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the four years of conflict and slaughter that ensued.
Written by Helen Newall the production is very well researched incorporating the tranquil setting of Chester in 1914 and the aspirations of the young community of their day as they enjoy a carefree existence with their eyes fixed firmly on the future and their hopes of love and prosperity to follow. The representation reflects the turbulent times through the lives of Alice and Joe Blakey and Walter Nightingale three such adolescents from Cheshire who epitomise their generation during the transition from harmony to hostility.
How could the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip an ethnic Serb and Yugoslav nationalist in June 1914 possibly have any bearing on their serene lifestyle. Serbia was a country far away in The Balkans and as a military and political force appeared to be of very little significance to the rest of Europe and in particular to our lovers living out their hedonistic days on the River Dee.
As the story miraculously unfolds we are drawn to the direct correlation between the various power struggles that exist within Europe and the diverse complex web of alliances formed as the result of their copious Nationalist interests.
The reality now dawns on our young humanity that War is not just a possibility but an inevitable conclusion as the domino effect falls into place throughout Europe and their juvenile lives will never be the same again.
There were some exceptional pieces of character acting by the cast of just four thespians as they convey their own personal and wretched accounts which in reality could have been from any region within Britain and epitomised the transformation and suffering endured by all those localities.
Hannah Good as Alice excelled in her multiple roles as actor, narrator and finally portraying her vocal proficiencies in what was an exceptional parade of dexterities from this very talented performer.
Photographer is Andrew Billington
Accompanied by Aled Bidder playing Joe Blakey the young lovers superbly revealed the changing fortunes of the times from their care free adolescent existence in a peaceful English City to their bond of eternal commitment of love in a Country ravaged by War and the uncertainty they may not see other again. The desperation and agony of the environment is poignantly depicted in their performance reflecting not just a young couple in Chester but a generation those lives were torn apart forever.
The depiction moves passionately on to describe the horrors of trench warfare which are impressively supplemented with images from that time. From the view of the 1st Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment we are navigated and become conversant with the atrocious and even scandalous conditions endured by the combatants. Aled Bidder, Rhys Isaac-Jones and Tom Lincoln portrayed the regulars with bravura distinction as they come to terms with living in dugouts submerged in a mixture of mud and water which later turns to ice and the appalling spectacle of their fallen and injured comrades. This was a very poignant and well researched representation performed splendidly by all three concerned.
As we reach the Christmas Truce of 1914 we experience the bond that now exists between the British and German forces both of whom have mutually become accustomed to the indecorous conditions and now have more in common and conjoint appreciation for each other than their loved ones back at home.
The actors captured flawlessly the symbolic moment of peace and humanity where gifts are exchanged and their dead are buried which cumulated in the memorable football match of Christmas 1914.
The production was very much enhanced with the rendering of images taken during World War 1 which were displayed at contrite intervals throughout the performance. These facets added considerably to the depth and meaning of the depiction for which full credit must be given to Helen Newall and Nick Beadle.
The music from Matt Baker is a blend of compositions and carols from the Great War period together with some original material set in that genre. Matt majestically once again at his superlative finest incorporates these melodies blending the actors with a local choir to amazing success, none more so than at the beginning of the second half performance with the chorale rendition and adaption of some well-known mantras providing a very poignant and emotional perception of the time.
Photographer is Andrew Billington
Silent night will be touring throughout the Cheshire region and beyond until 7th December which provides the ideal opportunity to witness this remarkable and captivating performance following on from the very successful Over by Christmas which reached an amazing 20,000 people when staged at numerous railway stations throughout September.
Alice will be the Christmas Production this Year by Theatre in the Quarter and follows the highly acclaimed interpretations of A Christmas Carol and The Snow Queen in 2012 and 2013 respectfully.
Alice will run from Thursday 4th December to Thursday 8th January to make this Christmas period a memorable occasion for all the family both young and old alike.
Andrew D Thompson
Review of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson Produced by Theatre in the Quarter and Marketing by Chester Performs at St Mary’s Centre
Theatre in the Quarter are currently performing “The Snow Queen” from 5th December to 11th January at St Mary’s Centre.
St Mary’s Centre provides the ideal backdrop for this Hans Christian Anderson masterpiece with its wonderful gothic architectural style and affordance of close proximity to the stage which epitomises this faultless setting with its relaxed family atmosphere. Used for so many diverse functions St Mary’s Centre really is a cultural jewel in the crown for the aspirations of this picturesque City of Chester.
As you approach the venue you are greeted with a spectacle of entertainment in the form of a Winter Circus commencing some 30 minutes before the main performance embarks. Members of the cast both young and old engage their audience with questions and words of advice setting the framework for the enchanting environment that is to follow.
Theatre in the Quarter again exceed our expectations with original music from the very talented Matt Baker, superb character storytelling throughout, a rich fusion of professional and community performers, outstanding digital media and an exceptional range of costumes all combine to make this a truly memorable performance.
The account commences as the sorcerer makes a magic mirror which only reflects evil and depravity in people and when it raised to infiltrate heaven it falls and scatters into millions of pieces.
The pieces like grains of sand are scattered throughout the world and enter the eyes and hearts of the population. Their hearts become frozen like blocks of ice devoid of all sentiment and their eyes see only evil in their surroundings depicting the image of the magic mirror itself.
Katie Foster Barnes as Gerda displayed all emotions from audacity and determination to love and devotion as she embarks on her perilous journey to save Kia from the clutches of the Snow Queen. It was a wonderful performance of acting and melody from this talented young actress as she is confronted by numerous hazards on her dangerous expedition. Her dedication and courage kept the audience enthralled as she encounters everything from menacing robbers to a polar bear, whilst also experiencing comradeship from friendly foe in various guises including affable ravens and repenting thieves.
It was pleasurable to welcome back some of the cast from the very successful production from A Christmas Carol last year in the Town Hall.
None more so than Ben Tolley who returns as the Sorcerer a very different role from that of Bob Cratchit but one in which he truly excels. Ben’s performance was magnificent throughout capturing all the cunning and evilness the part commanded. Always very much the pivotal figure on stage displaying his versatility of talents from actor to musician and surpassing in his various roles including Robber King and a Raven making this a truly imposing performance. It was incredibly humorous to witness him as the sociable Raven Huginn enthralling his audience with his mischievous pranks which included stealing sweets from the children present.
It was equally delightful to witness the return of Michelle Long playing Nanna among others in this current production with some remarkable story telling which kept the audience both young and old engrossed and spellbound throughout. Her performance was superb playing such a mature role for someone from a younger generation.
Kai played by local actor David Edwards returns following appearances in last years’ Christmas production and also featuring in the Chester Mystery Plays. An impressive display of character acting in which he parades a range of emotions from being callous and arrogant to hopelessness and a conflict of allegiance as the enactment unfolds. When the Snow Queen pleads with him to stay the pain is clearly etched on his face as he agonizes whether to leave his abductor and who could blame him.
The Snow Queen played by Cassandra Charlick brought together an exceptional exhibition of acting which was equaled if not surpassed with some wonderful singing of various genres. Cassandra commanded the stage at all times and was always the pivotal figure throughout the performance whether mesmerizing her audience as she revealed the astounding range of her vocal capacity or displaying the malevolent and malicious aspects of her acting protagonist. Towards the conclusion we also witness a more compassionate and gentler Snow Queen exposing a more vulnerable facet to her character and captivating those of us who were fortunate to be present. Congratulations must be given to Theatre in the Quarter for apprehending the services of someone with such outstanding all round ability and quality to play the role.
Russ Tunney’s adaptation was spectacular combining the original Hans Christian Anderson classic and interweaving this with attributes of Norse mythology proved to be a masterstroke.
While containing many features of the original version and supplementing these new dimensions proved to be a very successful concoction, not so much being a nuance of the innovative theme but more a virtuoso production in its own right.
The depiction was magical and fascinating from start to finish under the unparalleled direction of Russ Tunney. Russ brings together a cast of professional actors from stage and screen working with adults from our native community and local school children, all combining in a diversity of roles that make this a genuinely extraordinary production.
The design by Judith Croft and the ambient environment simulation created by the Film and Digital Media of Helen Newall was astounding and this coupled with the stunning Gothic setting of St Mary’s Centre made the production one of mesmeric proportions.
The music composed for the Snow Queen by Matt Baker and performed by professional and community singers was absolutely astonishing and again demonstrated the incredible aptitude that Matt possesses. To yet again create original music for this Production was another stroke of genius following on from the very efficacious unique scores produced for last years’ Christmas Carol and the Chester Mystery Plays serves only to demonstrate the exceptional talent of the Creator.
Matt credited the success for the complexity of the music composed for the Mystery Plays down to the raw talent that was available to him. I feel the same must by the case with this production particularly when he can call upon someone with the amazing vocals of Cassandra Charlick.
The Costumes were incredible as we were treated to an array of characters from robbers, penguins, reindeer, princes, princess, ravens and a polar bear. The Penguin scene performed by some of the younger elements of the cast was particularly entertaining as was the episode of the Ravens stealing sweets from the children in the audience.
The stage is continually engulfed in an astounding harmony of melody from soloists and amateur singers alike as the enactment unfurls accompanied by some exceptional musicians. This is not so much a fairytale production but an adaption on the original masterpiece which makes the current enactment suitable for all ages from three to ninety three. The venue is very much family orientated and guaranteed to leave all elements present full of admiration of the extraordinary performance they have just witnessed
The Snow Queen will be at St Mary’s Centre from 5th December – 11th January. Tickets are on sale now through theatreinthequarter.co.uk, in person from Chester Cathedral or by phone on 01244 500959.
Andrew D Thompson
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Produced by Theatre in the Quarter and Marketing by Chester Performs at Chester Town Hall
Theatre in the Quarter are currently performing “A Christmas Carol” from 5th to 23rd December set in the superbly refurbished Victorian Town Hall.
The Town Hall has been transformed and theatre goers are afforded a unique experience from the moment they approach the Building. The audience are enveloped into the atmosphere of the performance some thirty minutes prior to commencement where they can indulge in the ambiance of Dickensian society confronted by Street Sellers and serenaded by Carollers authentically dressed in Victorian costume.
In this magical setting we are transported back to a previous age to relish a Christmas largely influenced by Dickens himself and very much kept alive in this enactment.
The performance commences in the former Magistrates’ Court where the coffin of Jacob Marley lies prior to burial before moving to the main production in the Assembly Room. In the splendour of the newly refurbished Victorian building there could be no better environment to experience this Christmas Classic.
Dickens explores the serious divisions of Victorian society through ”A Christmas Carol” representing the needs of the poor and the inexcusable prohibitive death rate of children in London.
The tale begins on a cold, bleak Christmas Eve seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner, Jacob Marley. The central character of Scrooge played by Andrew Melville was an incredible portrayal and was piece of charismatic acting of the highest quality and very much on par with the late Alastair Sim depiction, expressing the avaricious, eccentric, clenching , materialistic, idiosyncratic representation the part demands of a person who has no place in his life for sympathy, compassion, charity or benevolence.
Scrooge is ably supported by the exquisite Swedish Linda Holmgren playing the Ghost of Christmas Past who climbs out of a trunk at the end of his four poster bed, what a lovely surprise.
Andrew Melville’s performance is exceptional as Scrooge is forced to confront his past pleading for the opportunity to change events and accept the love once offered by Belle. But instead he is faced with the despair and anguish of a love now lost forever. We now see her happily married with young children, but in an instant are transferred to a time where the young Scrooge and Belle are lovers again. The pain is etched on Andrew’s face as he implores with his young counterpart to take a different path in life and release him from this abode of misery and hopelessness he now resides in.
Peter Alexander brings a jubilant approach to the scene as the Ghost of Christmas present enters proceedings and we experience the joys of preparing for a Victorian Christmas. As the scene moves to Bob Cratchit’s home Scrooge is forced to view the misery and squalor the family live in and the dilemma that faces the seriously ill Tiny Tim.
Greater trauma faces Scrooge when confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come represented by Black Gowned Ghosts portraying a very bleak future including the death of Tiny Tim and his own neglected grave. This was an incredible interpretation showing prodigious imagination and ingenuity of the passage and again wonderfully acted by Andrew Melville leaving the audience awestruck and emotionally drained.
The enactment of the whole performance was truly magical and captivating from start to finish under the superlative direction of Russ Tunney. Russ brings together professional Actors/Musicians accompanied admirably by nonprofessional carollers, schoolchildren and a community choir. The various components of the show change quickly throughout from intense harrowing emotional scenes involving small groups to the whole arena both stage and hall inclusive being engulfed in an astounding harmony of melody from both cast and carollers alike.
This was an exceptional performance and full credit must also be given to the musical composition and direction of Matt Baker which was truly extraordinary and inspiring.
Finally full mention should also be attributed to Theatre in the Quarter in establishing a cast of Actors with such an outstanding opulent pedigree of Theatre Credits. The superb lighting and design by Helen Newall and Judith Croft coupled with the remarkable Music, Costumes and Choreography including an amazingly spectacular snowball fight involving audience participation made this an incredible performance that left you enchanted and mesmerised, wishing you could engage the production all over again.
Andrew D Thompson